Tonight, the UK Women's team try to tame the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky vs. Mississippi State
Thurs., Jan. 17 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Yes, the headline is right. #5 Kentucky. The UK Hoops Squad has just received the highest ranking in the history of the program. These are uncharted waters indeed. There are now winning streaks on the line every time the UK Ladies take the floor. At home, SEC, away games, you pick it, we are riding a winning streak in it. This team sits on the edge of accomplishing things no other UK Hoops team has ever done. But first they have to beat Mississippi State. The team that is ahead of them in one statistic in the SEC that they want back.
Mississippi State is not a very good team. They sit at 8-9 overall and 0-4 in SEC play. But they are a good shotblocking team and lead the SEC at 5.4 blocks per game. Something that UK does not do a great job of, but they are adequate. A lot of that comes from the "Forty Minutes Of Dread" defense that Mitchell is patenting. And the fact that a lot of shots never get off, so there are not as many to block. But with an interior post presence like UK now has with DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker, you can expect that Kentucky wants to become proficient in that as well.
UK now sits at 16-1, 4-0 on the season. They have burned through the first half of the year like a house afire, and show no signs of letting off the gas now. Mississippi State comes into Rupp with no expectations of a win, so this is the classic definition of a trap game. No one, and I mean no one, is expecting Kentucky to lose. So, Matthew Mitchell gets the unenviable task of keeping UK sharp and not allowing them to stumble when they should be bulldozing through opponents such as MSU.
Mitchell is already warning folks concerning Miss. St.: We are awfully excited to be back in Memorial Coliseum tomorrow night. We have had great, energetic crowds. We really appreciate our fans' dedication and loyalty coming out to these games and we'll need another big, energetic crowd tomorrow night because we are playing a very aggressive, tough, hard-nosed, defensive team in Mississippi State. We have a lot of respect for them. They have some really good players so it will be a great challenge tomorrow night. It's really great that we are going to be at home. We are looking forward to getting back into Memorial and seeing if we can earn another victory.
As she always does, A'Dia Mathies will lead UK against the Lady Bulldogs but she is no longer alone in her task. DeNesha Stallworth is now just behind Mathies in most stats, and is creeping up every game. With Walker now firmly entrenched at her side in the paint, Stallworth has become deadly on both defense and offense. And now that Jennifer O'Neill had grown into her role running the floor for UK, this team is now complete. Should UK take MSU lightly though, it will be at their own peril. Falling back into old habits of poor shooting, bad passes and not taking care of the ball are not distant memories for Kentucky.However Mitchell points out that UK has now played two back-to-back solid games:
I have been really pleased with how we have hustled to get to 4-0 in the league," Mitchell said. "We couldn't be in a better position than that. What this time of year is all about is trying to take it one game at a time and really put everything you have into the preparation for each and every game and seeing how many victories you can stack up in that win column. They have done a really good job of that. Last week, on Thursday and Sunday, I thought we hustled in both games for 40 minutes. That's something we have asked our players to do, so I am really pleased with that. From game-to-game there are some areas that need to be improved and do things a little bit better, but as a whole, I am really happy with where the team is and they continue to come in each day and practice really hard and I think that's going to be the key for this team.
The Bulldogs have lost to Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida and LSU in their first four league games. Overall, sophomores Kendra Grant and Martha Alwal lead State in scoring, averaging 12.8 and 12.2 points per game, respectively. Alwal, a 6-foot-4 center, also leads the team in rebounding (9.8) and blocks per game (2.4). They top the SEC and rank 18th nationally in blocks per game with 5.4. Alwal is third in the league with 2.4 blocks per game. Their defense has held its last three opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
Look for UK to try and shut MSU down early and never let up. I expect UK by 20 at home, but never count out MSU. They just like playing too hard to ignore them.